Susan Fournier Delves Deeper Into Social Listening in HBR

in Faculty, Faculty in the News, Marketing, News
December 11th, 2013

Fournier outlines steps to getting more value out of social media brand-chatter

Susan-Fournier

Last month, Susan Fournier, Questrom Professor in Management and professor of marketing, advised marketers in the Harvard Business Review: Think like an anthropologist. Instead of breaking down big data into percentages and meaningless numbers, tap into social media chatter to get a real glimpse into how consumers are living and thinking. A single comment or photo posted about a company’s product can impact its consumer knowledge and its profitability—don’t ignore it.

In a follow-up to her piece on this anthropological approach to big data, Fournier, once again in collaboration with Bob Rietveld, managing director and cofounder of Oxyme, delves deeper into the value of social listening and offers further instruction: Think like a market researcher. The information gained from social listening can be as robust a source of strategic inspiration as any must-have diagnostics on the dashboard, the pair writes. Not to mention, social listening is inexpensive and efficient, because surveying is unnecessary: unsolicited comments from consumers are already out there, awaiting analysis.

Fournier and Rietveld outline four steps to getting more value out of social media brand-chatter:

Make sure the quality of your social-listening data is good.

Like all data, the information you glean from social media should be subject to market-research protocols for reliability and validity. Ask the same kinds of tough questions you’d ask about any research project. Are the data drawn from the entire social-media landscape? Is the sampling of comments statistically sound? Is the system of data classification, in terms of topics, themes, and sentiments, accurate? Does your automated coding allow for idiomatic meanings, as in “This brand is the s—t”? The insights you get from social media are only as good as the data set you create.

Don’t make your social-media data stand alone.

Information from social listening must be correlated with other streams of data that the company is using. For example, in an analysis we performed for a transport company, we found that complaints shared on daily Twitter feeds tracked 90% with the content of customer-service comments registered by phone or mail. Linkages like this go a long way toward speeding the adoption of social-media data as a valid strategic-insight source.

Think about “impact” and not just ROI.

Marketing managers tend to take too narrow a view of social listening, seeing it merely as a way to measure the return on investment of specific marketing campaigns. For example, an electric-toothbrush maker that had launched a campaign to woo “non-electric” brushers was dismayed to learn that the resulting burst of social-media activity came mostly from existing users. It branded the campaign a flop and moved on.

In so doing, the company overlooked the value of what it had found on social-media sites. Users were sharing positive stories, advocating electric brushing, and in some cases expressing their love of the company’s brand. The company was getting a rare unfiltered look at how consumers were living the impact of the company’s strategies and brands.

Be sure your social-listening analyses make their way out of the marketing-research department

and into the wider organization, including leadership circles. Don’t let the information stay bottled up in the departments that collected and “own” the data. That means establishing a common analytical currency and language throughout the company so that managers can take action and be held accountable. One company we worked with created a Center for Digital Excellence to coordinate data on a vast brand portfolio. The company tied the digital indicators to bonus compensations, signaling C-level commitment to the program. It’s that kind of high-level integration that enables companies to focus efforts and resources effectively, creating value for the firm.

View the full piece here.